Which church is the One True Church?

It is often reported that there are about 30,000 denominations within the Protestant branch of Christianity alone. This often leads to the suggestion is that if so many different churches each claims to be the correct one, perhaps none of them are. Sometimes this point is made by Roman Catholics as a kind of argument against Protestantism, the implication being that since they are both far older and numerically far larger than any Protestant institution, it is more likely that theirs is the true faith. However, I’ve also seen this line of thinking used in support of arguments against Christianity in general. Looking at the splits over the centuries into so many Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant groups, why should one believe  any of them are true? The point can be generalized even further by looking at the large number of world religions and wondering aloud whether it is likely that any of them has it right.

It is not, however, true that each of the various Christian groups proclaims itself to be the One True Church. For Roman Catholics, that claim is still “on the books” so to speak, albeit with some nuanced language about how “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure” (see here, sec. 8). Eastern Orthodoxy, less institutionally unified than the Catholicism but much more so than Protestantism, makes similar claims about itself. For Catholics and Orthodox, their claims to being the authentic church are historical, based on an unbroken institutional line back to the Apostles, with their primary disagreement being whether St. Peter (and by extension, the Bishops of Rome throughout history) had authority over other bishops.

Protestant denominations typically do not claim to be the One True Church. Protestant churches do often write creeds or “statements of faith”, but rarely claim that their own institution is the only true church. Instead, they often hold up the Bible as their authority, rather than any church institution.

Some churches on the fringe of Christianity do make such a claim, usually based upon their founder having been given some special authority by God in modern times. The usual result of this is for such a church to be labeled as non-Christian by all groups (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox) in the mainstream of historic Christianity. Such labeling can be controversial, as in the case of the Mormons, a group whose main institution (the LDS church) does consider itself to be the One True Church.

Personally, I do not subscribe to any particular institution as being the One True Church, nor do I subscribe to the inerrancy of the Bible. However, I have no automatic hostility towards churches that teach either of these. For my first twenty-five years, I was a Roman Catholic, and I can assure anyone that the main business of that church (as I experienced it on a local level) is not bad-mouthing other churches (nor is it child abuse). I consider the Catholic Church overall to be a good institution, and I left it with no hard feelings, only because I found other institutions to be a bit better fit, in terms of helping me follow Jesus in my own life and pass the faith along to my children.

Intellectually, I am most at home in churches, such as the United Methodist Church, that encourage a Christian discipleship that draws upon scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, and that engages the contemporary culture, and that do not insist upon the inerrancy of the Bible (see here, here). I can also manage to find a place in churches, such as the Vineyard, that lean more conservative in their theology but think of themselves as a “centered set” rather than a “bounded set”.

Above all else, I am drawn towards congregations of any denomination that are focused on following Jesus and loving one another, which after all is the standard He set for recognizing His disciples.  I would advise anyone looking for a church home to focus first on finding that – a love that not only fills the building each Sunday but also lingers in the heart all week, and spills out into the surrounding community.

5 thoughts on “Which church is the One True Church?”

  1. What you are not considering, Jesus when he was walking on Earth (God in the Flesh) most everyone didn’t believe him and his Gospel. The priest as they were called in the Bible days are today’s Catholic’s. They didn’t believe in Jesus then either. One problem I see today with the Catholics is they now say they believe in Jesus but worship idols also. This is so called pictures of what Christ looks like, he is on their cross, and all of the statues in their churches and in peoples yards; this is idols!
    Now back to which church, if you are a born again Christian and you are doing as Jesus Christ commanded you, then you are a part of his Church. This is the most important thing is life today. Stop following these religions and follow Jesus Christ. Repent of your sins, meaning turn away from your wrong thinking and doings (Idols, sex outside of marriage, …) and you will find the right Church in you.

    1. Thanks for your comment. As you note, Catholics do say they believe in Jesus. This makes them very different than the enemies of Jesus when He walked the earth. Whether any individual Catholic (or any other Christian) believes in Jesus in their heart is of course a different matter, but I cannot know this about anyone. Also, Catholics do not consider themselves to be worshipping idols when they respectfully make statues or other images of Jesus. See this article for additional comments on this issue from a Catholic perspective. Worship is a matter of the heart, not the lips, so if someone does not believe they are worshipping a statue or a picture (but instead are worshipping the living God), then I suppose they cannot be guilty of it. Idol worship in the literal sense was a significant issue in ancient times, but in the present day I think our idols are more abstract (although no less dangerous) – freedom without responsibility, selfishness, pride, money, and so on.

      1. Ok, I didn’t want to go into knocking anyone for their beliefs, but after reading what you said, I have to let you see it for yourself in God’s Word (look at the part in Exodus 20:4 …where it talks about anything that is in heaven above) …this is images of Mary, John, and Jesus on the Cross (which is is not any longer). All of this is considered idols! I’m not saying all Catholic’s worship them, but I have see with my own eyes where every time a Catholic person sees one of these, they make the sign of the cross over their chest and say something privately. Thank you for your thoughts, I hope this helps clear up what I originally wrote.
        This leads me to what Jesus said;
        >Matthew 6:24 (Jesus speaking) No man can serve two masters: for eitherhe will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and
        despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
        >Exodus 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth
        beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
        >I John 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

  2. I remember w/ great love and gratitude the tear- filled , Joyful words from an elderly woman at the Senior Home I worked at about 20 years ago. I asked her what denomination she was, because she was always reading her Bible. I figured that she was probably a Baptist or Lutheran. I’ ll never forget her answer or in what manner she responded to me. She looked into my eyes w/her tear filled eyes and said,” I’ not of a denomination,but I am just so glad that someone told me I was a sinner and that JESUS died for me, HE paid the price for my sins, so that I would one day be w/HIM for Eternity. ”
    Talk about simple faith——-
    Why do we make things so complicated? HE not only died for us and Saved us ; HE lives in our hearts And walks w/ us thru this journey here on Earth. Now, can you even imagine why we wouldn’t have JOY in our hearts in this live, no matter what?

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